Relations of Effortful Control Regulation Reactive Control and Specific Negative Emotions Anger and Sadness to Childrens Adjustment

In the models that we have discussed thus far, we used attentional regulation versus behavioral control as the two aspects of control predicting children's adjustment and social competence. In our more recent studies, we have started to differentiate between effortful (or voluntary) aspects of control and less voluntary, reactive aspects of control. In addition, because it is likely that anger and sadness are differentially related to adjustment and social behavior, in our most recent study we have obtained measures of both of these aspects of negative emotionality. We now illustrate the usefulness of these decisions by reporting findings from two samples on the relations of effortful and reactive control to children's adjustment (i.e., problem behaviors).

With the longitudinal sample that we have just discussed, for example, we completed another 2-year follow-up (4 years after the initial assessment) and computed structural equation models to examine the relations of effortful and reactive control to externalizing problem behaviors, from the first assessment (Time 1 or T1) to the third assessment (T3) (Valiente et al., 2003). At T3, parents (usually mothers) and teachers reported on children's effortful attention shifting, attention focusing, and inhibitory control, reactive over- versus under-control (selected items from Block & Block's, 1980, ego control scale), negative emotionality, and externalizing behavior. In addition, children's persistence on a difficult puzzle task (the puzzle box persistence task) rather than cheating or quitting (they were working to win a prize)—an index of effortful control—was assessed at all three assessments. In T1, T2, and T3 concurrent models (i.e., models containing variables only from one given assessment), we successfully grouped the measures of regulation/control into effortful control (attentional control, inhibitory control, persistence) and reactive overcontrol versus undercontrol (ego control). Although at T3 all measures of effortful or reactive over- versus. undercontrol were significantly correlated with low externalizing, in models including both the T1 to T3 model or only the T3 data, T3 effortful control, but not ego over- versus undercontrol, had a unique negative relation to externalizing (i.e., the relation was significant when simultaneously controlling for the effects of other predictors; see Figure 15.1 for the longitudinal model). In contrast, at T1, both effortful control and reactive control had significant unique relations to externalizing problems. In the longitudinal model, autoregressive paths from a given variable at T1 (e.g., externalizing problems) to the same variable at T3 were included, so the model took into account the consistency of the various variables across time (that is, the effects of a predictor on a dependent variables were unique from the effects of consistency of the dependent variable over time). Thus, the findings supported the idea that with age, effortful control increasingly modulates the overt effects of ego control when predicting externalizing. We also obtained evidence that the negative relation of effortful control to externalizing behavior was significant for all children

Figure 15.1 A structural equation model of the relations of effortful control (regulation) and reactive overcontrol to externalizing problem behaviors at two points in time, four years apart. Bold paths are significant; dotted lines are nonsignificant. Adapted from Valiente et al. (2003).

but stronger for those prone to negative emotion (this same interaction was marginally significant for ego control with negative emotionality; Valiente et al., 2003).

In all of the research we have already discussed on children's emotion-related regulation, our samples were unselected samples of typical school children. Yet behavioral inhibition and high social withdrawal are relatively rare in nonclinical samples (Coll et al., 1984; Strauss, 1988) and problems with effortful control and impulsivity may be more limited. Thus, we began to examine our hypotheses in a sample that is more diverse in terms of problem behavior. Therefore, we selected a sample of school children using primary caregivers' reports of children's problem behaviors. Children age 4.5 through 7 years were recruited from local preschools and elementary schools, a newspaper ad, and flyers at after school programs. Out of a pool of 315 children, we selected all children with relatively high scores on externalizing and/or internalizing problem behaviors and matched these children with control children of the same sex and race, similar social class, and about the same age (when possible). Control children were those scores below the level that indicates at-risk or clinical levels of problem behaviors (i.e., internalizing or externalizing problems). The final sample included 214 children, about three-fourths of whom were non-Hispanic European American.

Children came to the laboratory where they engaged in a variety of tasks; moreover, we obtained information from parents and teachers on numerous aspects of children's functioning. In the first major analyses from these data, we examined the relations of specific types of regulation (that is, effortful control) and reactive undercontrol (i.e., impulsivity) to children's categorization as an internalizer (e.g., prone to social withdrawal, anxiety, and depression), externalizer (e.g., aggressive, delinquent behavior), or nondisordered control child (using scores on Achenbach's, 1991, Child Behavior Checklist). We used teachers' and one parent's reports of children's effortful attention shifting, attention focusing, and inhibitory control, as well as impulsivity. We also administered several observed measures of children's effortful regulation. These tasks assessed children's abilities to persist rather than cheating on a puzzle when working for a prize (our puzzle box persistence task), sit still when asked to do so before being left alone with physiological equipment on them (e.g., they had heart rate and skin conductance electrodes on their chests and hands), and exhibit positive versus negative facial or verbal reactions to a disappointing prize. The latter task involved the children getting an unattractive prize at the end of the laboratory session when they expected to get a very attractive prize. Children's facial, gestural, vocal, and verbal reactions when receiving the gift from the experimenter were videotaped and coded to see if children hid their disappointment. In addition, mothers, fathers, and teachers reported on children's internalizing and externalizing problems, and, based on these reports, we divided children into groups of control (nondisordered) children, externalizing children (children high on externalizing but not internalizing problems), internalizing children (those high on internalizing problems but not externalizing problems), and co-morbid children (those high on both internalizing and externalizing problems).

Consistent with the previously discussed theory and hypotheses, children high on externalizing (externalizing only and co-morbid children combined), in comparison to nondisordered children, were low in adult-reported effortful control (attention shifting, focusing, and inhibitory control), high in adult-reported impulsivity, and low on some behavioral measures of regulation. For example, they had more difficulty than control (nondisordered) children in sitting still when asked to do so and in persisting rather than cheating or going off-task on the puzzle box persistence task. Thus, children with externalizing symptoms were low in both effortful and reactive control. They also were reported by adults to be prone to anger and, to a lesser degree, sadness. Internalizers, in comparison to controls, were low in attentional regulation (i.e., attention shifting and focusing) and impulsivity, did not differ much on observed regulation (on the behavioral tasks) or reported inhibitory control, and were higher in reported sadness. Compared to externalizers, internalizers were higher in attentional control and inhibitory control, more regulated on some behavioral measures, lower on impulsivity, and less angry. For example, internalizers showed less negative emotion than externalizers in response to a disappointing gift and internalizing boys exhibited more persistence on the puzzle box persistence task than externalizing did boys (Eisenberg, Cumberland, et al., 2001).

Thus, internalizers, but not externalizers, were relatively low on involuntarily reactive undercon-trol (as tapped with impulsivity), whereas externalizers were quite high on reactive undercontrol. Of interest, both externalizers and internalizers were low in attentional modes of effortful control—the types of regulation that would be expected to help modulate the experience of negative emotions such as anxiety, fear, or anger. Because externalizers were also low in the ability to willfully inhibit behavior, they would be expected to have more problems than internalizers with displays of inappropriate behavior.

We followed up the aforementioned sample of children 2 years later (Eisenberg, Spinrad, et al., 2004) and used these data to examine longitudinal relations between measures of control/regulation, emotionality, and adjustment. In these analyses, children were not divided into adjustment groups; rather, continuous scores on internalizing and externalizing problems were used. In initial structural equation measurement models using multiple indicators of all constructs (e.g., teachers' and parents' reports), we found that using the two latent constructs of effortful control (attention shifting, attention focusing, and inhibitory control, as well as persistence on the puzzle box persistence task) and reactive control (impulsivity) fit the data better than when we created separate constructs for attentional control (attention shifting and focusing) and behavioral control (impulsivity, inhibitory control, and persistence on the puzzle box persistence task).

Based on these analyses, we then used structural equation modeling to predict both externalizing and internalizing problems (correlating the two latent constructs) from effortful control and im-pulsivity, with relations to internalizing being mediated by resiliency. Effortful control was assessed with adults' reports of inhibitory control and attentional regulation; at T1, a behavioral measure of regulation (persistence on our puzzle box task) also contributed to the latent construct (it did not load significantly at T2). Impulsivity was the sole index of reactive (over)control. Impulsivity, resiliency, externalizing, and internalizing were indicated by reports from teachers and primary caregiving parents, and fathers as well as mothers provided data on adjustment. In these analyses, experts' ratings were used to drop items on the regulation, emotion, and adjustment scales that were confounded with one another (e.g., adjustment items rated by experts as assessing temperamental emotion were dropped from externalizing or internalizing scales).

In the models, we predicted adjustment (i.e., externalizing and internalizing behavior problems) from both effortful control and impulsivity so we could assess their unique prediction of both types of problem behaviors. In addition, autoregressive paths from a given variable at T1 (e.g., externalizing problems) to the same variable at T2 were included to take into account the consistency of the various variables across time. We also tested whether the relations to internalizing were mediated by resiliency; children with internalizing problems, who were prone to reactive overcontrol, were hypothesized to be rigid and overly inhibited in their behavior, in part due to low resiliency. To test bidirectional effects (from adjustment to regulation/control as well as vice versa), cross-lagged paths were included (i.e., paths from T1 problem behaviors to T2 effortful control, impulsivit, and resiliency, and from T1 effortful control, impulsivity, and resiliency to T2 resiliency and problem behaviors).

As shown in Figure 15.2, impulsivity and effortful control were both significant, positive predictors of resiliency. Resiliency mediated the relations of effortful control and impulsivity to internalizing at both ages. In contrast, externalizing was predicted directly by low effortful control and high impulsivity, although at T1, in the longitudinal (but not the T1 only model), there also was mediation through resiliency from EC and impulsivity to externalizing problems. These relations held at T2 even when controlling for levels of the various constructs at T1 with one exception: the path from impulsivity to externalizing problems became nonsignificant. Thus, with the exception of that one path, relations at T2 were not due merely to the consistency of relations and variables at T1 over time. One possible explanation of the fact that impulsivity was a weaker predictor of externalizing problems in the T2 model (concurrent and longitudinal) is that effortful control is more important than impulsivity in predicting older children's externalizing problems because children with higher effortful control can better minimize outer manifestations of impulsivity. This finding is consistent with the nonsignificant prediction of adjustment from reactive control (i.e., ego control) at T3 in the previously discussed model from our other sample.

Time 1 Time 2

Time 1 Time 2

Figure 15.2 A structural equation model of the relations of effortful control and impulsivity to resiliency, externalizing problems, and internalizing problems at two points in time, two years apart. Bold paths are significant; dotted lines are nonsignificant. Adapted from Eisneberg, Spinrad, et al. (2004).

Figure 15.2 A structural equation model of the relations of effortful control and impulsivity to resiliency, externalizing problems, and internalizing problems at two points in time, two years apart. Bold paths are significant; dotted lines are nonsignificant. Adapted from Eisneberg, Spinrad, et al. (2004).

In addition, in the longitudinal model there were negative paths from T1 externalizing to T2 effortful control and from T1 internalizing to T2 resiliency. Thus, adjustment appeared to predict effortful and reactive control and resiliency, as well as vice versa. Moreover, when we computed an additional model with only cross-lagged paths (and correlations among the T1 latent constructs and those at T2 that required correlating), the same cross-lagged paths were found, as well as paths from T1 effortful control to high T2 resiliency and lower levels of T2 externalizing (see Figure 15.3). Thus, there was evidence of bi-directionality of relations among these variables.

There also was evidence that anger, but not sadness, moderated some of the relations in the model. Based on composite measures of adjustment, EC, and impulsivity, teacher-reported anger moderated the direct path of effortful control (or impulsivity) to externalizing at both T1 and T2 (relations of effortful control or impulsivity to externalizing were significant for all groups, but more so for children prone to anger).

Note in the models that resiliency was positively related to effortful control and impulsivity. One would expect children high in effortful control to be resilient because they can adjust their level of control as needed to adapt successfully. However, it might initially seem odd that impulsivity was also positively related to personality resiliency. Block and Kremen (1996) asserted that "the human goal is to be as undercontrolled as possible and as overcontrolled as necessary. When one is more undercontrolled than is adaptively effective or more overcontrolled than is adaptively required, one is not resilient" (p. 351). If they are correct, children not only high in effortful control but also moderate to moderately high in reactive undercontrol, who are relatively spontaneous and impulsive, would be expected to be more likely than overcontrolled children to deal well with stress. In fact, we have found positive linear relations between reactive undercontrol (low ego control or high impulsivity) and resiliency in 3 samples of younger children, as well as quadratic relations in 2 samples (Cumberland et al., 2004; Eisenberg, Spinrad, et al., 2004; Eisenberg, Valiente, et al., 2003). Young children who are moderate or sometimes high on impulsivity tend to be more resilient than those who are high in reactive overcontrol (or low in impulsivity). By mid- to late-elementary school, only the quadratic relation remains and it appears that this relation dissipates further with age.

Time 1 Time 2

Time 1 Time 2

Figure 15.3 A structural equation model of the bi-directional relations of effortful control, impulsiv-ity, and resiliency with adjustment across two years of time. Nonsignificant paths across time are not shown. Curved lines indicate that the constructs were correlated within time.


In our work we have documented the importance of individual differences in emotionality and regulation in both positive and negative aspects of social functioning. We found that one can make more sense of the empirical data by considering moderational and mediational relations, as well as additive effects. For example, socially competence and problems behaviors often are predicted by both high regulation and low negative emotionality, although regulation is a better predictor of outcomes for children prone to negative emotion. We also have found that we can learn more by considering various types of regulation and emotional reactions and by using multiple reporters and a multi-method approach to data collection. Sometimes our facial or physiological data added information that was different than that provided by self- or other-report data; for example, relations between children's prosocial behavior and empathy-related responding have been much more consistent for these nonverbal measures than for self-report measures. Children may have difficulty assessing and reporting their internal states, and their reports may be contaminated by concerns about providing socially desirable responses. In general, each type of measure has different strengths and weaknesses, and provides somewhat different kinds of information. Nonetheless, facial or physiological measures may be especially useful for younger children because their self-reports often are not very predictive of outcomes. Overall, our data support the current emphasis on process (mediation) and moderating relations in the study of socioemotional development.

In regard to future directions, relatively little is known about the role of positive emotionality in the development and prediction of children's social competence and problem behaviors. It is likely that children prone to positive emotionality are relatively resilient and socially competent. In addition, it would be useful to further differentiate among various negative emotions when predicting outcomes for children (e.g., examine anxiety as well as anger and sadness). Anger/frustration and emotions such as sadness appear to be related somewhat differently to internalizing and externalizing problem

TABLE 15.1

Summary of Major Constructs Predicting Quality of Socioemotional Functioning


1. Emotional intensity—stable individual differences in the typical intensity with which individuals experience their emotions (one can also look at emotional intensity in specific contexts)

a. intensity of negative emotions b. intensity of positive emotions c. intensity of general emotionality—the general tendency to feel emotions strongly, without reference specifically to valence of the emotion (positive or negative)

2. Emotional frequency—individual differences in the frequency of experiencing emotions a. frequency of negative emotions b. frequency of positive emotions

Emotion-related Regulation (sometimes labeled emotion regulation for brevity)

1. The process of initiating, avoiding, inhibiting, maintaining, or modulating the occurrence, form, intensity, or duration of internal feeling states, emotion-related physiological, attentional processes, motivational states, and/or the behavioral concomitants of emotion in the service of accomplishing affect-related biological or social adaptation or achieving individual goals.

This, emotion-related regulation includes the following:

a. regulation of internal feeling states, attention (attentional control), cognitions, motivation, and physiological reactions that are related to (or part of) emotion b. behavioral regulation: regulation of observable facial and gestural responses and other behaviors that stem from, or are associated with, internal emotion-related psychological or physiological states and goals, often through either inhibitory control (i.e., the capacity to suppress approach tendencies as needed) or activation control (the capacity to perform an action when there is a strong tendency to avoid it).

c. attempts to alter or manage the emotion-inducing context causing the emotion (often called instrumental or problem-focused coping).

Effortful Control

Effortful control is defined as "the ability to inhibit a dominant response to perform a subdominant response" (Rothbart & Bates, 1998, p. 137) or the "efficiency of executive attention, including the ability to inhibit a dominant response and/or to activate a subdominant response, to plan, and to detect errors" (Rothbart & Bates, in press). Effortful control pertains to the ability to willfully or voluntarily inhibit, activate, or change (modulate) attention and behavior.

Reactive Control

Reactive control: relatively involuntary motivational approach and avoidance systems of response reactivity that, at extreme levels, result in impulsive undercontrol and rigid overcontrol. Measures typically tap (but are not confined to):

(a) impulsivity or reactive undercontrol: pertains to speed of response initiation

(b) reactive overcontrol (rigid, constrained behavior; low ego control) and behavioral inhibition (slow or inhibited approach in situations involving novelty or uncertainty).

behaviors. Moreover, some aspects of regulation may be more effective than others in moderating the relations between various emotions and specific outcomes. For example, effortful inhibitory control may be more crucial for managing anger/frustration than sadness whereas attention shifting may more particularly linked to moderating the relation of anxiety or sadness to social behavior and internalizing problems. Thus, in the future, more differentiation among various emotions and types of regulation is desirable in research on the role of these aspects of functioning in the quality of social functioning.

Finally, although not a topic of this chapter, we know that children's regulation does vary with socialization experiences (see Eisenberg et al., 1998; Eisenberg, Valiente, et al., 2001). We also know that preventative interventions can improve children's emotional competence and reduce their aggression and other problem behaviors (Kam, Greenberg, & Walls, 2003; Greenberg, Kusche, Cook, & Quamma, 1995). Thus, it is very likely that parents, teachers, and other socializers affect the degree to which children are well-regulated. Given the importance of self-regulation for children's social competence and adjustment, behavioral scientists should continue to study ways to foster it in childhood.


Work on this chapter was supported by grants from the

National Institutes of Mental Health (2 R01 MH60838) to the authors and a grant from the National Institutes of Drug

Abuse to Nancy Eisenberg.


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Part IV


Single Parenting Becoming the Best Parent For Your Child

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